Our Legacies (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 13, 2016)

The time has come for me to move on to other areas of ministry. I hope this final devotional entry will encourage you to seek after God’s plans for your own life and strengthen your faith for the journey. Thank you for walking this path with me for 5+ years! It has been a joy! Please feel free to visit the archives to read past entries.

Early in my walk with the Lord, I felt drawn toward ministry, especially foreign missions. My pastor at the time once quipped that I would become the next Lottie Moon (a famous missionary to China in the late 1800s). I tucked away his comments in my heart as I mulled over God’s plan for my life. A few years later, that same pastor disgraced his family and left the church amid a scandalous affair. I struggled for a long while about his teachings and encouragement that had meant so much to me as a new believer in Christ, but suddenly felt tainted. I learned the hard way to put my trust in the Lord, rather than in people.

 

That isn’t to say that godly leaders have no impact on us – of course they do! Look at the story of Elijah and Elisha, beginning in 1 Kings 19. Elijah had accomplished amazing things for the Lord, but this part of the story picks up with him hiding in a cave to avoid capture. Elijah felt like all of God’s people had turned on him, and he was the only faithful one left. The Lord spoke to him, encouraging him that not only were there still thousands of loyal Israelites, but God had also identified Elisha as his successor to carry on the work that he had started.

 

Elijah may have thought his ministry was a goner (through no fault of his own), but as it turns out, his legacy was so incredible that he even had an encore performance in the New Testament (see Matthew 17)! There may be times – no, there will be times – when serving the Lord feels like a one-man band, and you question your purpose or calling. There will be times when other Christians let you down, disappoint you, even betray your trust. In those times, we need to remember that we are serving the Lord, first and foremost. When we walk with the Lord, great things happen – not for our own glory, but for his.

 

When we began these devotionals a little over five years ago, I could not have imagined how the Lord would use them. After all, I’m no Elijah; I’m just a gal with lots of ideas in her head and words on her heart. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts, struggles, and prayers as you came alongside and walked with me through grief, despair, joy, heartache, growth, and change. This season of ministry is coming to an end for me, but I hope that somehow I have spurred each of you on to find ways in which you can serve the Lord through your own gifts, talents, and passions. Don’t be afraid to strike your cloak on the water, as it were, and step out in faith (see 2 Kings 2 for Elijah & Elisha’s river story). Who knows, you might just become the next Lottie Moon … but even if you don’t, God still has mind-blowing things planned for you. Just trust him.

At What Cost? (Prayer Devotional for the week of November 15, 2015)

I am happy with where I am now, professionally. I absolutely love teaching college students and exploring my research ideas. My schedule is such that most mornings, I’m able to take my younger kids to school, and I even have time to run errands in the middle of the day now & then. I didn’t land my dream job overnight, though; my current success came at a large personal cost. In total, I spent about 10 years of my life in college, and I’m still paying off loans from grad school. I didn’t watch TV for about four years, because I needed every moment of free time in the evenings to study and write. I tried not to miss any big events, but some play time with my kids was also sacrificed during those years when I needed to work late or study.

All that is to say: there’s a cost to be paid in pursuit of our life-goals. Honestly, the same could be said for our spiritual lives. We’ve been working on a new song for the worship team recently, and one of the lines says, “Take it all, take it all, my life in your hands.” Every time I sing those words, I’m reminded of what it costs to follow Jesus. It’s not about having an emotional experience at church or camp; it’s about letting Jesus have total control of every aspect of your life.

In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus had a very frank conversation with a large crowd of wannabe disciples. They wanted to come along for the ride, but he needed them to understand that following him would be costly. Verse 26 often gets misinterpreted as Jesus advocating that we should hate our parents and siblings, but that’s not what he’s saying. I believe what he’s trying to communicate is that we are to have so much dedication to him that our relationships with everyone else – and our view of ourselves – pale in comparison.

The question is: What are you willing to sacrifice? What amount of free time, financial resources, mental energy, and elbow grease are you willing to put on the line to follow Jesus? Following Jesus is truly rewarding, but like the earlier analogy of my job, it takes effort and commitment to bring it to fruition. Proverbs 20:25 (NLT) warns, “Don’t trap yourself by making a rash promise to God and only later counting the cost.” If you are going to sing a song like “My Heart is Yours” or “I Surrender All,” then you need to mean it.

Are You Even Listening to Me? (Prayer Devotional for the week of September 13, 2015)

Sometimes I feel like a broken record, except that my kids don’t really have a frame of reference for scratched vinyl albums, so the cliché is lost on them. The point, as many parents will agree, is that I feel like my words go in one ear and out the other. I don’t talk just to hear myself speak, for cryin’ out loud!

 

Sometimes I wonder if God feels the same way about us. He communicates with us through his word, the Bible. He also communicates through messengers, like the sermon on Sunday morning, a worship song on the radio, or a godly friend’s counsel. He communicates through prayer and the nudges of the Holy Spirit on our hearts. Case in point: Have you ever heard a particularly poignant sermon that echoed something that had been on your heart for a while, and then a song came on the radio that was spot-on about what you were dealing with? Lo and behold, you open your Bible later and seemingly coincidentally stumble upon a passage that reiterates everything God has been trying to tell you?

 

God is so patient with us; isn’t he? In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul explains that scripture comes from God’s inspiration, and it is not only useful to teach us, but also to redirect us, point out our mistakes, and build character. All of these things, in turn, work together to equip us to do the work that God calls us to do. Think back to when you started your current job: you might have attended an orientation, gone through training, perhaps even had a mentor. You probably weren’t an expert on Day One; it took time to learn the ropes.

 

Our spiritual journey is not much different. We have ample training opportunities through church and studying the Bible. You can build mentorship connections through Life groups. You can gain on-the-job training by serving in a ministry. Even people who have walked with the Lord for decades will admit that they have much to learn, but each day should find us growing closer and closer to the Lord. Check out Philippians 1:6 – God is in the business of finishing projects, and how wonderful for us that he never throws in the towel!

 

Isaiah 55:11 reminds us that God’s word will not return empty-handed; he speaks to be heard, and he communicates with us in order to bring us into a deeper relationship with himself. Are you listening?

 

Now Hiring Willing Workers (Prayer Devotional for the week of May 31, 2015)

In between a disappointing encounter with a rich young ruler in Matthew 19 and an audacious request by a helicopter parent that would make even today’s generation blush in Matthew 20, Jesus tells a parable about laborers in a vineyard. Perhaps I’m reading more into the passage than is intended because of some things I’m dealing with at home (namely, kids telling the truth but not the whole truth to keep from getting into trouble), but bear with me and see if there are some real-life parallels for you, as well.

 

A land owner goes out early in the morning to find workers for his vineyard and negotiates a day’s wages with the new hires. Not only that, but he also returns four more times to try to hire more workers throughout the day. Without being present in the story, it’s hard to tell exactly, but it sounds like he hired anyone who was willing to work each time he went.

 

The last time he went was about an hour before quitting time, and when he found some people hanging around, he asked why they weren’t working. They answered, “Because no one has hired us” (Matthew 20:7, ESV). Interesting. If my earlier interpretation is correct, then either these guys weren’t around the first three times the owner came by looking for workers, or they originally turned down the offer hoping for something better to come along.

 

I wonder if “Because no one has hired us” is the whole truth. Maybe they slept in till noon and didn’t want to admit their laziness, or perhaps they turned up their noses at doing such prickly manual labor as picking grapes until the day dragged on to the point where they realized they wouldn’t have money to feed their families if they didn’t swallow their pride and accept the work.

 

We don’t know the backstory, but I reckon we could still put ourselves into their shoes. There are times when God nudges our hearts to do his work, and we pretend not to hear the Spirit’s call because we’d rather do something else (or nothing at all). I encourage you to listen carefully and let God use you in his kingdom work; you won’t regret it.

The Hardest Job (Prayer Devotional for the week of May 10, 2015)

My first job (not including babysitting) was working the cash register at a drycleaner. I remember a customer got upset because his jeans were only extra-starched, but not stiff enough to double as drum skins. It was laughable, but that wasn’t the hardest job, by any means. Several years later, I worked as a newspaper reporter, and I once got chewed out by my editor. That job got on my nerves, but even it wasn’t the hardest job.

 

Then, there was the time I had to eat scorpion and dog meat (not in the same meal) at my teaching job in China, or else risk offending the host. That was a little freaky, but certainly not the hardest job I’ve had. There was also the job where a bunch of people got fired, and I eventually left for a much lower paying position just to save my skin (and my sanity). That job took a toll on my emotional health, but even it wasn’t the hardest.

 

For me, the hardest job is parenting. I used to think it was tough when the kids were little and needed constant care and attention, but sometimes it feels even more difficult now that they’re older and can voice their feelings and opinions. I can think of few things more humbling than having a person whose poop you’ve wiped and whose puke you’ve caught with your own shirt tell you that they don’t want you as a parent, or that you’re “so mean” to them, or that you “never” do anything nice for them.

 

Yes, parenting is certainly one of the most delayed-reward jobs on the planet. There are verses like Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20 that we can encourage our children to memorize and put into practice, but Proverbs 22:6 is the epitome of all parenting verses, as it gives us hope that one of these days, we’ll eventually see the fruit from our labors.

 

Some of you are still in the diapering days; others are already enjoying grandparenthood. Some are not parents, but you still have influence over the children in your life. May we be examples for them to emulate our love and respect for God, so that they will take it to heart and … excuse me, I have to go … someone was apparently playing catch with a rock in the backyard and caught it with his face. Sigh.